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For Archie

For Archie

George Alleyne and Archie Hudson-Phillips

My heart is not quite in the grave with the old Arch, but almost. Archibald Hudson-Phillips died at 6 AM on September 15 after a very short illness. It was the manner of his death, the suddenness of the separation and the consequences of the demise that coalesce to create a numbness in me – a strange feeling for one who has seen so many faces of death. I railed against a virus that could shatter many of the practices and rituals around death that have sustained mankind in the face of the unknown perhaps from the beginning of time. I could not be there at his passing – I could not grip his hand and let him know that I was there – I could not easily comfort his widow. I was left thousands of miles away to reflect on our friendship – a fraternal relationship that began 69 years ago when we came to Mona on the same day. In later years he would greet me as “carissimus frater” and it was reciprocated. There he was then- easy of address- precise with diction – with a ready smile – a natural raconteur -a scion of a very distinguished Trinidadian family – a proud alumnus of the famous Queen’s Royal College. We bonded almost immediately as medical students. In our first year I saw him lying in bed in the old Gibraltar hut, roasting with fever, drenched in sweat from malaria which was a new disease to me. We rode our bicycles through the shortcut to St. Margaret’s Church to present letters of introduction from our priests at home to the Rev. McPherson. We spent holidays together in Maxfield Road and walked to the Halfway Tree Church and all this would be some of the topics of the reminiscences in our later years. He comforted me when my father died.

In his undergraduate years, like most of us, he participated in numerous campus activities, but it is as a champion thespian that he is perhaps best remembered. He starred in many productions, but it was for the character Afa in Derek Walcott’s “The sea at Dauphin” that he received the award in 1956 for the best actor at the Jamaica Adult Drama Festival. When I saw the play it almost seemed that Archie had become the crusty old fisherman Afa, and Afa was indeed Archie.

Archie Hudson Phillips accepting his award for best actor

He forsook the stage when he qualified in medicine, but I would see him play out his bigamic fealty to his two loves- the arts and medicine, and for him they were complementary. He indulged his love for books, paintings, sculpture, music and all the things that represented the human imagination and the urge to create something that approximated an ideal of beauty in its several forms. One only had to see him in later years seated in his armchair, surrounded by the several manifestations of art and hear him declaim some  passage from some play  in which he had acted or poetry or some Latin verse which was of immediate relevance to the issue under discussion. One had to see the photographs of his flowers and hear him extol the beauty of the plants to which he attended so lovingly and spoke so gently. The catholicism of his taste in art was bounded solely by the canons of excellence.

I had the good fortune to see firsthand the way in which he cultivated his other love, how he would combine the art with the science of medicine. He was a good doctor and followed one of the dictates of the great physician William Osler who said, “We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from life”. The patients whom he referred to me spoke of him in glowing almost reverential terms. They spoke of his interest equally in care as in cure and of his ability to minister to the spirit even when there was no cure for the body. One of the indications of his success as a physician was the fact that so many of his patients I am told were patients for life and I know he continued practice until recently partly because of his loyalty to those whom he had been treating for many years, some almost from birth. He could not abide what he considered to be careless practice and would complain bitterly about what he perceived to be a creeping deterioration in the standards of excellence which should characterize what he believed to be the noblest of callings.

He could be maddingly stubborn on occasion, sometimes to his own detriment, and even with his friends, but that was because he would be reluctant to abandon what he believed to be a principled position. He was intensely loyal to his friends, treasured their friendship and I knew that he never regarded it as transactional or as a means to an end.

Sylvan and I extend our condolences to his wife Angela, herself a distinguished legal luminary who stood by him through thick and thin and whose gentle admonitions often calmed him in critical moments. Our condolences also go to his sister Margaret, a highly respected physician, and a pillar of the Jamaican medical fraternity.

From Left to Right Sir George and Lady Sylvan Alleyne with Angela and Archie Hudson Phillips

So, fare thee well “carissimus”. Give my regards to my friends when you gather to swap stories and exchange Latin couplets.

 Walk good and may good duppy walk with you!

George Alleyne

Chancellor Emeritus

University of The West Indies

18 September 2020


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